Client Of The Year: E.L.F. Beauty

Jennifer Coolidge helped E.L.F. redefine stickiness

E.L.F. Beauty might be winning an award for meteoric financial performance, with frequent triple-digit sales gains that dazzle investors and baffle competitors. Or the company could also be collecting trophies for dominating so many “best of” consumer lists or the nonstop “love this!” comments on social media.

E.L.F. also gets kudos for pop-culture moments of genuine inclusivity: Teens adore it, yet comic actor Jennifer Coolidge -- the company’s best-loved spokesperson -- is in her 60s.

But E.L.F. Beauty is Media Post’s Client of the Year for one reason only: Media choices that make others say, “Damn, why didn’t we think of that?”

The secret is “audience-centricity,” says Patrick O’Keefe, vice president of integrated marketing communications.

“It’s at the core of everything we do, from creative to messaging to product development to media,” he told MediaPost via email. “We lead with a strategic approach that enables us to speak to our core Gen Z customers while consistently putting the brand in front of new audiences.”

“E.L.F.'s magic is powered by a deep understanding of its community, allowing the team to trust their instincts and ‘move at the speed of culture,’” said Meg Crowley, senior director of client strategy at Tinuiti, an agency partner, in an email to MediaPost. “E.L.F. actively listens, encourages feedback, and engages continually, ensuring solutions tailored to their audience's evolving needs.”

The best example? E.L.F.’s award-winning Super Bowl appearance earlier this year.

The idea came from Coolidge herself. She made an offhand red-carpet comment that she hoped one day to be cast as a dolphin. E.L.F., which had already seen Power Grip Primer become a runaway hit, hired her, as well as writer Mike White (who co-authored HBO’s “White Lotus,” in which Coolidge stars). In just three weeks, the company had a dolphin-themed regional spot for the Super Bowl, a first for a cosmetic brand.

“Power Grip Primer provides a dewy look, and dolphin skin was trending on TikTok,” O’Keefe says. “Our approach capitalized on viral moments built by our community, meeting them on TV. We also leveraged a national digital in-game unit with a social push.”

The effort moved the Oakland, California-based company miles past the Gen Z goalpost. “Gen Z is not enough,” said Kory Marchisotto, chief marketing officer, in a recent presentation at Tinuiti. “We need to appeal to older audiences and get more people into our orbit of inspiration. The offensive was to capture new eyeballs and targets.”

Marchisotto also wanted a steady drumbeat. That meant translating the brand’s campaign -- its first-ever TV effort -- “into the biggest bang we've ever had.” Ads appeared on 78 networks directly following the Super Bowl.

The Big Game splash generated 10 billion impressions in the first 24 hours. The ad became the fifth-most-mentioned Super Bowl spot on social media, with Coolidge earning the highest celebrity ranking. As the #dolphinskin hashtag trended, E.L.F. attracted 68 million new users, vaulting the primer to the No. 1 SKU in mass cosmetics.

Even more fun? “People were sticking everything to their faces. They were buying it to see how much shit they could stick to things, “ said Marchisotto. “So we turned that into a whole new campaign.”

While the Super Bowl may have been the most visible work of the year, it was far from E.L.F.’s only bold media move to speed sales growth. A follow-up launch with Coolidge, Dirty Pillows Lip Kit, sold out in two hours.

E.L.F. has moved into Web3, launching E.L.F. UP! on Roblox. The immersive experience takes users on a dynamic, personalized journey to become entrepreneurs and changemakers, gamifying financial literacy and boosting social awareness, all while building on the brand’s spunky, scrappy persona.

Already an early star on TikTok, @elfyeah routinely lands in the platform’s Top 10 brands.

This year, E.L.F. also scored industry firsts on Twitch, Snapchat and Pinterest. The company continued its run of brand collaborations, partnering with American Eagle Outfitters for a denim-themed collection.

The year’s feel-good brand awareness work included teaming up with Billie Jean King to celebrate the 50th anniversary of “Battle of the Sexes” and a “Show Your(s)e.l.f.” campaign with paralympic star Anastasia Pagonis.

Social listening is essential. “Social is where culture happens. It helps inform our strategy. And from a paid perspective, it is always about testing, learning, optimizing and iterating,” O’Keefe says. “We look for new ways to elevate and innovate.”

Not surprisingly, those social skills mean E.L.F. rules among teens, with 29% of mindshare, according to the latest ranking from Piper Sandler. Selena Gomez’ Rare Beauty, the next closest brand, notches just 13%, and industry giant L’Oreal has just 5%.

E.L.F. has translated this media might to commercial success. Its growth rate in color cosmetics is 36%, more than four times the industry rate of 8%.

And while the brand is known as an O.G. disrupter and digital-first pioneer -- launching in 2004 with vegan, cruelty-free products for just $1 each -- the company has become a modern retail powerhouse.

E.L.F. is one of the top-selling brands at Target, for example, stealing shelf space and market share from competitors.

E.L.F. is also aggressively moving into skincare, bolstered by its $355 million acquisition of Naturium earlier this year.

Wall Street can’t stop watching. At UBS, for example, a recent detailed analysis suggests that E.L.F. will continue to gain share in the mass color-cosmetics category, and benefit from expanding skincare offers, writes Peter Grom, a UBS analyst. He expects E.L.F. to also benefit from “an underappreciated international expansion.”

UBS forecasts E.L.F. will notch 55% sales growth in fiscal 2024 and 26% net sales growth in fiscal 2025. (That’s up 47% and 20% in organic gains.)

E.L.F.’s. growth runway, Grom says, “is a thing of beauty.”

O’Keefe credits agency partners, including Tinuiti, with much of this success and momentum.

“Our agencies are an extension of our team and understand the long-term vision of the brand,” he says. “We stay close and open on our goals, vision and expectations. The right partners and team is everything.”

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